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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Finest WWII Documentary Ever Produced
For History buffs and those who have a keen, deeply felt interest in World War II beyond just the military events, the World at War, produced by Thames Television (1981) and released earlier on VHS by Thorn/EMI, is a 26 episode documentary set apart from all other documentaries about WWII. No other, with the exception of Walter Cronkite's CBS series, comes close to an...
Published on Sept. 15 2001 by Frank "the man"

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars missing item
I received this feedback from the recipient of this product, to whom it was sent as birthday gift:

"By the way, you should let Amazon know that disc/episode 9 is missing from the set. I think Amazon does not have this in stock regularly and they "brokered" the transaction because the set was sent by a personal third-party in Quebec. Given the rarity of the...
Published on Oct. 2 2011 by Patricia Cotterill

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Finest WWII Documentary Ever Produced, Sept. 15 2001
For History buffs and those who have a keen, deeply felt interest in World War II beyond just the military events, the World at War, produced by Thames Television (1981) and released earlier on VHS by Thorn/EMI, is a 26 episode documentary set apart from all other documentaries about WWII. No other, with the exception of Walter Cronkite's CBS series, comes close to an unbiased, analytical perspective of a War that cost perhaps 50 million lives and took an emotional and philosophical toll we are still trying to comprehend today.
Narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier and covering all aspects of the war, this definitive series is used by many colleges and universities as a source for History and Documentary Film courses. There is an incredible depth of archive footage used; skilfully woven with interviews of major figures in the War from Britain, US, Canada, Europe and Japan. Many major eye-witness leaders and ordinary people who were still alive in 1981 contributed sometimes surprising, sometimes incredible, and sometimes haunting interviews. Yet, for all its skilful editing and historical sophistication, it is clearly presented and emotionally compelling. In my opinion, it is, along with Kenneth Clark's "Civilisation", the best ever produced British documentary.
What makes this a stellar and overpowering account of the War is Olivier's narration. Never blustery, patriotic, or theatrical, Sir Laurence delivers pointed, thoughtful analysis with his incredible command of English and oration. Music for the series was composed by Carl Davis and even the opening credits set an unforgettable tone in a haunting image of a child in a photograph, dissolving in flames. This series is for those trying to make sense of a 6 year period when the world went mad. Five Stars PLUS.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still The Definitive Documentary after almost 30 Yrs., March 14 2004
When I was young I used to wait up late until the local CBC affiliate put aired the weekly version of World at War. Although I had watched many WWII documentaries (old footage and reels of the war were something that I just could not get enough of), this clearly stood out as something different. Gone was the entire Hollywood idea of allies smashing the hapless Germans in battles where you never saw the dead of the good guys. Here were bodies floating on the beaches of Tarawa, and Normandy. Here were hardbitten 8th Army Troops Battling their way up the boot of Italy. Here was an assessment of what 20th Century Mechanised war entailed --- the complete extermination or subjugation of your enemy. The ability to resort to any means to persue the end of the war, however just or vile such ends may be.
It was a real shocker. Cold shower of reflection that the war WAS different. That those who rid the world of the twin enenmies of Naziism and Japanese Militarism never served humanity better. That in their necessary, and bloody sacrifices, that they were far from perfect.
Whole one hour segments could be used for teaching aspects of the war. The one "Genocide" is particularly distressing. But it is presented with just exactly the gravity and honesty that it should be presented. Sir Lawrence Olivier appears at the beginning to solemnly announce that what we see we will find shocking, but that these events happenned in Europe and that "they must never happen again." Such events sound interesting in light of the medieval aspects of the breakup of the former Yugoslav republic in the 90s.
Like everything else even with 26 hour-long segments you can still miss a lot. Only 3 hours in total is spent on the war with Japan + one hour on the Burma Front (which is a very good segment). But the events come fast and furious and there are a lot of events missing including the initial Japanese aggression towards China, and some aspects of the American Island hoping campaign. In addition the Campaign in New Guinea is lacking as well as an accurate appreciation of the contributions of the Commonwealth Allies (Australian efforts in the Western Desert are not prominent and the New Guniea Campaign is given a small spot; the fact that Canada did the dress reheasal for Normandy at Dieppe and then found itself with its own beach at DDay -- Juno is not mentioned). In addition there is no mention on the fighting in China.
I bought this documentary series in order that my daughter would have some sense of understanding of the 20th Century and the events that anchor that century, and our present one, in the events of those dark days. When I watch events like "Genocide," "Britain Alone" "The Development of the Bomb" and "The Air War over Europe," I remember the importance of humanity and the importance of stopping early those who would threaten the stability of the world order by insisting on their version of what constitutes the "truth."
That such people and societies are the bane of humanity and need to controlled and stopped at an early time lest they take advantage of our weakness.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Remember", June 5 2004
K. Gittins (CA USA) - See all my reviews
This is an excellent, extensive, British-made documentary about events leading up to, and including, World War II. With 26 episodes, there is quite a bit of material covered. Excellent narration by Laurence Olivier, and a memorable score.
If you are a war buff, particularly WW2, this is the set to have. Can't say enough good things about it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Without a doubt...the best..., Jan. 10 2002
Charles W. Adams "Charles W. Adams" (Adel, Iowa USA) - See all my reviews
Assuming that a filmmaker can't go on indefinately, let's say making a history of World War II in hundred or more hours of videotape, Jeremy Isaacs has done a masterful job of capturing the essense of World War II, including its causes and the Cold War that evolved out of its conclusion.
Please note, "The World At War" was produced between 1971 and 1974, which means the interviews with veterans and other war survivors were filmed close to thirty years after the conclusion of World War II.
I watched much of this series when it was first telecasted in the 1970s, and continued to view reruns of programs over the last 25+ years. I had thought that I had seen every episode two or three times, but after finishing the complete DVD collection, I'm pretty sure I completely missed some programs and saw only bits-and-pieces of others.
What a tremendous production. Beautiful reproduced on DVD, with excellent color and superb graphics (maps).
I especially appreciated the opening special, "The Making of..." with producer Jeremy Isaacs, as well as Isaacs' brief introductions to each of the 26 programs. I only wish he had prepared similar introductions to the supplementary material on Discs 4 and 5, but you can't have everything.
"The World At War" is hundred times better than the typical fare found on A&E, The History Channel, and even PBS. That's not to say that quality productions are not being made today, but Jeremy Isaacs' production is just plain better than most things regularly scheduled documentaries on cable and broadcast television.
Special mention must be made of the music by Carl Davis and the writers, who are too numerous to mention. Everyone familiar with this series knows the contribution of Sir Laurence Olivier, definitely the finest documentary narration I've ever heard.
As an American, I particularly appreciate the British perspective, which offers a different view of the breath, scope and horror of the war. The series really puts the current War on Terrorism in perspective.
The supplementary material begins with an extended interview/commentary by Traudl Junge who served as Hitler's secretary. She's a fascinating person, speaking calmly and thoughtfully about her former employer, especially the events leading up to his suicide.
There is an equally interesting interview with historian Stephen Ambrose, filmed in the early 1970s. While looking 25+ years younger, Ambrose sounds almost the same as he does today during his numerous C-Span and PBS appearances.
The most fascinating of the eight hours of supplementary material are the programs dealing with the Death of Adolf Hitler and the extended two part examination of the Final Solution.
Thank you, Amazon, for making this wonderful documentary so accessible.
For those of you contemplating this major expediture, you won't regret purchasing this landmark visual/aural history of World War II.
And remember, this DVD collection will be available for your children and grandchildren.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent narration and images - truly an epic achievement!, May 2 2002
By A Customer
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: World at War (VHS Tape)
I have watched these 26 episodes several times and the two bonus episodes are also a wonderfully informative and insightful addition, particularly the intensely expressive (albeit short) interview with Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary. The voice and powerful acting talent of Laurence Olivier truly enhances the emotional impact of these series. The facts are numerous, but, I gave these series only 4 out of 5 stars because, having read "A World At Arms", by Gerhard Weinberg (a 920-page epic account of the War), I found that some precious footage was wasted on showing too much of nothing (e.g. an entire episode was dedicated to Holland, hardly a major power in the war, even though it was a very fascinating episode indeed). There were not enough details mentioned, for example about the Desert War in Africa, nor were enough episodes dedicated to the war in the Pacific. There also should have been a much more in-depth coverage of major battles like The Battle of The Bulge, more expanded coverage of the final 9 months or so of the War in the Pacific where many things went wrong for Japan and why they went wrong. There is hardly any mention of the weak coordination of the Japanese navy and army and their constant disagreements and quarrels which resulted in a practical "turkey shoot" for the Americans in the Pacific, of Japanese supply ships sailing with no convoy protection and Japan being forced to even use their submarines to transport food out of desperation.
There is also hardly any mention of Chiang-Kai-Shek of China and his dialogue with the allies in trying to stop enemies on two fronts - the communists of Mao-Tse-Tung and the Japanese barbars who delighted in cutting off the fingers and ears and hands and feet of Chinese civilians in places like Nanking (the Nanking massacre).

But there are some excellent episodes like the one on Burma and that horrendous mud!... And everyone will remember Avadour-Sur-Glane (?), the French town where about 600 citizens, men, women and children were rounded up in 1944 when the Nazi's were in retreat after operation Overlord (Normandy) ... and shot...and the town was destroyed and stands in ruins, never re-built to this day as a dedication to the unspeakable monstrosities of the Nazis. You will come out of these series never seeing humans the same way and thinking how animals are such "angels" compared to humans. That old and mindless expression of calling someone an "animal" does not apply after you see this documentary, for animals never kill each other the way humans have done so many times in their history...
The quality of the footage is fine and the poetic voice of Laurence Olivier permeates ceaselessly throughout the series. The episodes on the Soviet Union, with Russian songs and one particular poem is enough to make one's heart wrench (and teeth clench) and cry... Remember...
This is not an academic documentary series but still is the best one made so far on World War II. You won't be disappointed by it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best World War 2 Documentary of All Time, June 3 2004
Aaron Donnelly (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
This is by far the best world war 2 documentary i have ever seen. Running in at over 26hours with an additional 8hours of bounus features on the dvd, The World at War is one of the best documents of all time telling the story of this crucial time in world history. I highly recommend this set to anyone interested in world war 2 and history.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely Indispensable, Nov. 19 2002
By A Customer
Factual, unbiased, bursting with rich historical detail, beautifully directed and peerlessly narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier; this is the definitive WW2 documentary series. Made in the 1970s it contains many, many excellent interviews with people from both sides who actually took part in he war which provide superb insight into the events being documented. The World At War is a long series but necessarily so - no consideration is missed during the course of its many hours which deliver coverage of the build-up to war, the execution of the war and its aftermath in terms of its effect on both military and civilian populations and from the perspective of all the major participant nations in both political and military terms. Not merely excellent in content, The World At War is also a flawlessly crafted piece of television - images and sound (allowing for its date of production and the inclusion of many archive clips) are excellent as are the score, script and narration - Laurence Olivier really does do a great job.
To conclude - I can not recommend The World At War enough. If you are interested in the genre or a student of 20th century history then you should buy it: you will not regret it. If you consider the hours-of-viewing to price ratio it is also pretty good value to.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive account of the worst war in history, Aug. 4 2010
Mr. Russell Brooks "Russell1" (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The World At War (DVD)
I mentioned to one of my friends when I ordered this series that I wanted to learn more about World War II. I had always known that World War II was terrible, but watching The World at War, I realised that I had not known the extent of how terrible it truly was. This experience has had a significant impact on me, and is not one that I will forget quickly.

The scale of World War II was staggering. 50 million people lost their lives, including 20 million Russians. Although the total figure varies according to the methodology used, anywhere from 9 to 11 million Jews, Poles, Slavs, gypsies, gay men, political dissidents, people with disabilities and others were murdered by the SS and their supporters, most in the concentration and extermination camps of Auschwitz, Dachau and the like, names which have become synonymous with unspeakable horror and infamy. Whole cities (or large parts thereof), such as Warsaw, Dresden, Nagasaki and St Petersburg, to name just a few, were razed, acts that involved the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians. The World at War covers the devastation waged on these, and other, cities.

One thing I always remember from when I first watched this series, as a young boy in the 70s, is the opening music by Carl Davis, which is perfectly suited to the subject matter. Another thing I always remember about the opening is the very effective use of the various human faces fading into each other, and being engulfed by flames. I especially remember the face of the little boy.

Some of the episodes I found the most gripping include the following: The Final Solution Parts 1 and 2; Warrior; Morning: June - August 1944 (about the Allied invasion of Normandy); Occupation: Holland 1940 - 1944; Nemesis: Germany February - May 1945; and Hitler's Germany: Total War 1939 - 1945. Of these, the episodes I found the most disturbing were The Final Solution Parts 1 and 2, about the Holocaust, and Warrior, an episode about soldiers and battle, which includes uncompromising and confronting archival footage, such as a scene showing a group of European soldiers unceremoniously tossing a comrade's corpse onto a stretcher and then into an open grave, and footage of the flame throwers the US soldiers used. I remember thinking when I watched the movie Saving Private Ryan, which also depicts the use of the flame throwers, that most people would be hesitant to use such cruel measures on a nest of cockroaches, let alone other human beings. I also found the images at the beginning of disc 5 particularly chilling, such as a young girl in The Netherlands standing under an anti-Semitic sign reading `Voor Joden verboden' - `Prohibited for Jews'.

One of the most notable aspects of the series is the inclusion of many fascinating, and unbiased, interviews with people from both the Allied and Axis nations, including the following:

- Interviews with Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary

- An interview with Richard Boch, an apparently reluctant SS officer, in which he recounts a conversation he had with a colleague whilst witnessing children who were hiding under piles of clothing being flung into the `showers' during a late-night gassing: `argh, I'm going to be sick, I can't stand this. Oh my', I said, `Karl, I've never seen anything like it in my life, it's absolutely terrible'. His friend later replied `you do get used to anything in time'.

- An interview with Lord Avon, Foreign Minister of the British parliament at the time, in which he comments on the persecution of the Jews: `as the war progressed, some horrifying reports began to come out, and at first, it was very difficult naturally, to assess their accuracy, and they were indeed so horrible that it was hard to believe they could be true'.

- An interview with a German translator, Hildegard Wortmann, in which she talks about hearing of Hitler's suicide: `I was so disappointed that he was such a lousy, such a rotten coward, he had started the war, millions of dead people, everything was lost, in ruins, then he wanted to give up all responsibility and he just committed suicide, just like his mouthpiece Goebbels, I still hear Goebbels in my ears, do you want the total war, the yelling'.

I have only a few minor criticisms of the series, for example, I was somewhat surprised that Josef Mengele, the despicable Nazi `doctor' responsible for performing monstrous experiments on sets of twins, was never specifically mentioned. However, the series overall is so brilliant that any minor criticisms cannot detract from the 5-star rating it so manifestly deserves. It is undoubtedly the definitive documentary of World War II, and you could most definitely not buy any other Word War II documentary and acquire a solid knowledge of the events that unfolded. It is the most expensive item I have purchased on Amazon to date, but it was worth every cent.

The dark nightmare that was World War II embodied the most ghastly evil and blackest period that mankind has ever known, a reality accentuated by every episode of The World at War. The extremes of carnage, destruction and human suffering that the War entailed must never be forgotten, not in 50 years, not in 100 years, not in 500 years. The Holocaust, in particular, was utterly demonic, and although the ovens of Auschwitz, the most notorious death camp of all, are forever silenced, much of its physical entity remains as the Russians found it in January 1945, a reminder to the world of the depraved brutality that racism and bigotry can ultimately lead to. This can be summed up no better than by the powerful and indelible words which end The Final Solution - Part 2: `The ruins of Auschwitz are more than a memorial. As long as there is political intolerance, religious bigotry, racial prejudice, they are a warning. A warning that we all have a responsibility to see - that no-one builds another Auschwitz'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best documentary series ever, Aug. 15 2003
DReese (Virginia Beach, VA) - See all my reviews
This is the best documentary series I have ever watched - far better than the good but overrated Ken Burns' Civil War. The use of nothing but actually wartime footage is a masterstroke. The text is well-researched and written. And the filmmakers should be commended for treating all sides, even the Germans, with fairness. It must have been very difficult to gather this footage, especially from the Soviet Union.
The series looks at the war from all sides, but it is missing one episode - China. There is some discussion of China when discussing Japanese aggression (Nanjing Massacre, etc), and a little bit when dealing with the British in Burma. But I feel that to make the series truely complete, an episode that explores the relationship between the Communists and Nationalists, Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek, as well as US support for Chiang, the Burma Road, and other issues in China is needed. The Chinese-Japanese war was huge in terms of loss of life, and I felt like it was ignored. Perhaps this is because of the difficulty of getting footage out of Communist China or Nationalist Taiwan in the 1970s when the series was made, or maybe there is not any footage of Mao or Chiang during the war. But really this is a small complaint.
Considering that this is my only complaint, one should realize just how thorough this series truely is. It is very, very good.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best, May 8 2004
D. O. Becker (Austin, TX USA) - See all my reviews
History enthusiasts, think about a war or period in history, and summarize the major events on a piece of paper. Now write some questions on those events. Now gather researchers to provide film, eyewitness, music, and literary accounts, and professors and historians to provide commentary and insight to your questions.
Although many of us do not have the resources to follow this tact, Jeremy Isaacs and his researchers have done this for "The World at War" produced in the early 1970's. Most observers of World War II know summaries of the major events and battles: the Rise of the Third Reich, the Fall of France, the Battle of Britain, Barbarossa, Pearl Harbor, Stalingrad, Midway, D-Day, the Holocaust, the Atomic Bomb. However, this film series gives the basic summary of World War II plus much much more.
Although there are many great one hour summaries of the major events above, I particularly find the lesser known topics very interesting. The "Distant War" episode tells of the fumbling and bunglings of the early war against Germany. The "Alone" episode describes the relocation of children and the preparations for war. "Burma" and "Japan" tell of the early war battles of east Asia. "Occupation Holland" tells many fascinating underground resistance stories. All these in depth episodes not only tell of the battle sacrifice, but the total-war, planet-engulfing nature of World War II, something not witnessed before or since that conflict.
In addition, the DVD provides 6 bonus episodes that provide more depth to the regular "The World At War" series. Although some of this is repeatedly replayed on the History Channel, episodes such as "Warrior", "The Third Reich", and "The Final Solution" help nail down why this was such an important conflict. No, this was not a war over territory or barons testing their skills, for the most part this war was fought over simmering hatred and imposing ideological will.
I wish there were more history programs which examined a period and dissected the participants and the results more carefully. This series, "The World at War," summarizes this conflict and truly deserves the title of "the definitive story of World War II".
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The World at War [Blu-ray]
The World at War [Blu-ray] by Laurence Olivier (Blu-ray - 2010)
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